Traffic of Metaphors

Billboards/ Public Spaces/ Art

/ 1 September, 2016

The transitions Cuba has experienced throughout the last decades may be observed from several angles, but among the social spheres verging with visual arts, the billboards placed in the public space particularly call the attention on the changes that have taken place in the ideological, economic and cultural aspects. Because of that reason, billboards and posters have acquired a substantial interest for more than one artist because of their discursive plurality.

(…) Among the artists who have dealt with the topic in a more consistent way it is necessary to mention Félix González-Torres (Guáimaro, 1957-New York 1996), who developed his work in New York. His insistence in cultural activism frequently took him to the use of billboards to call the attention of the receiver or the authorities, when putting them in conflictive places as penitentiary centers, sanitariums or homeless shelters.  His work intended to create a social conscience through personal experiences as the loss, acceptance or rupture of the established orders, all this with insistence in a transparent decoding which the viewer would complete; so his billboards acted as detonators between what is private and public. In his work Sin título (Amantes)—Untitled (Lovers)—, the artist places an empty and not yet made bed as a symbol of the trace of his lover, who had died from AIDS.

(…) Other of the artists who have repetitively worked on the subject is Carlos Garaicoa (Havana, 1967), but, in his case, the billboard does not turn into announcer of a specific message; on the contrary, it generates a structure that, in many cases, comes from impoverishment and disuse. It would seem that the artist intends to tell us that void and corrosion also offer the possibility of an effective construction, taking into account that an important part of his operative likes to disarrange the objects, changing their meaning and function.

(…) Subverting the discourse of the billboard and ironizing it is part of the efforts by Antonio Espinosa (Manzanillo, 1974) in his series Para que el enemigo no regrese (For the Enemy Not to Return) and Paisajes ideológicos cubanos (Cuban Ideological Landscapes). In the first one, the pieces study the ideological predisposition through the visualization of the billboard. The works were conceived in woodcut technique and the preference for portraying the contextual dynamic is perceived in them. In a metonymic relationship, the artist subordinates the landscape to the graphic, to exhibit its void of contents and the suggestion those structures create in the environments they are placed. The series Paisajes ideológicos cubanos appropriates the semiotic of the billboard and sets the compositions in barely recognizable places in the city; areas conditioned by the presence of ideological propaganda, allusive to representative figures of the Cuban Revolution. These works are characterized by the ironical reference to the immobility and ineffectiveness of the slogans, repeated until they are empty of meaning and purpose.

(…) Young artist Jesús Hdez-Güero (Havana, 1983) proposes a work that mimics the billboard, linked to the sensitive topic of censorship. In his piece Subpaís (Under-country), with an investigation made on the organizations and political parties of the so called Cuban dissidence—not acknowledged or officialized because of the single-party system of the nation—suggests a sort of alternative territory, which fluctuates without place or acceptance of the State, but even then exists and has the same social logic of a country.

(…) The approximations to the billboard as a pretext in Cuban art are not only circumscribed to this group of creators. There are others that have also besieged the topic and next generations will surely do it as well. But, in my opinion, even taking into account projects of former decades generated from the institutions, the intervention of the billboard in the public space, and not only as photographic documentation or anonymous insertion, continues to be a pending subject.

To traffic with metaphors is a useful resource to alter the senses and evade prohibitions, but taking art to the billboards in the city should be understood as a form of raising its communicative status. The risk of socializing the works, although they may generate conflicting attitudes and opinions, should only be questionable for those who prefer to look elsewhere.

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